Inward, Outward, Forward

by Wendy Hammer

anemone tentaclesAlff Kraken drummed his tentacles against the walls of the holding tank. He knew it met all health and safety guidelines, but it was still nothing but a glorified fishbowl. Alff objected to it on principle.

He snapped his beak in irritation.

Annual performance evaluations were the worst.

Alff remembered the old days—when the water deities were still in charge. Sure, it hadn’t been a perfect system. Sometimes you got sent on errands of petty revenge. Sometimes you lost a colleague to a questing hero. But it had been honest work.

He wasn’t sure whose idea it had been to go corporate. Alff couldn’t see the benefits, but the trade-offs were evident. It meant more red tape and meetings: lunch meetings, department meetings, professional-development meetings, and even meetings about meetings. Alff dreaded them all.

Today was no exception.

The telltale slithering of beads against plastic betrayed the presence of a clipboard, and that could only mean one thing. His new supervisor had arrived.

Alff stared at the approaching figure. The man wore a gorgeously tailored suit, but all Alff could focus on was the garish aquamarine lanyard hanging around the guy’s neck. It was embroidered with the words GO TEAM SEAMONSTER in sparkly green thread. A badge dangled from the strip.

Alff’s ID was floating in a far corner of his sea cave along with other company flotsam. He’d been sure nobody was serious about actually wearing the thing.

“So, what’s crackin’?” The man snorted with laughter.

Alff remained still.

“Just kidding, bro. Pleased to meetcha.” He waved his free hand then pointed to himself. “Bob Nix.”

Alff didn’t know what to do so he fluttered his tentacles. It did the trick.

Bob glanced down at his paperwork and sighed. “I gotta say, Alff, I’ve seen better. You really phoned this in.”

He turned the clipboard around for Alff to see. “Like here—the Looking Inward section. You list your interests as: crushing ships, terrorizing, and devouring. That’s fine. But then you put down crushing and devouring as your top strengths.”

Bob frowned. “You see where this is going? What did you put down as your areas for growth and development?”

“Better crushing and more devouring,” he said. The mumbled words were accompanied by a froth of bubbles and Alff choked back a curse.

Bob tutted. “It’s this kind of thing that bums me out. A monster like you can do better. You’re a legend. Dude! Freakin’ Tennyson wrote a poem about you. You should be one of our biggest players.” He shook his head. “But here you are, selling yourself short. So I gotta ask. What gives?”

Alff floated and thought.

Bob stared at him. His eyes were pleading. Like he really cared about the answer. Like they really were on the same team.

Alff said, “I guess I just haven’t felt . . .um . . . properly motivated?” He shifted and let himself be buffeted by the answering waves.

Bob nodded and sidled up closer to the tank. “I hear ya, buddy. You need to look at the big picture. Don’t think of your contributions as just the number of ships you suck down to the icy depths. Every bit of mayhem you bring to the table is for the good of us all. Get it?”

Alff wasn’t sure. “So, when I think about trends that might influence my input, I shouldn’t think about tides and shipping lanes so much as . . .”

Bob made an encouraging motion.

“Global attitudes toward sea-based terror?”

“Bing! You need to ask how you, Alff Kraken, can make the Saltwater Department of the Water Division of Monstrosity Inc., the best it can be. Take initiative. No more aggressive mediocrity.”

Alff clacked his beak and churned up the water. “I can do that.”
“Awesome! The team needs you. I can’t take another year of those jags in Land division lording their success over us again. You missed the Awards Banquet, but it was all Sophia Chupacabra this and Evan Bigfoot that.” Bob spluttered.

Alff tried to look like he knew what Bob was talking about. He nodded.

“And don’t get me started on all the buzz about crop circles. The point is, we could do great things.”

Bob knocked his clipboard against the tank. “You could do great things.”

Alff preened.

“So. Ready to achieve?”

Alff answered. “Yes.”

“Can’t hear you.”

“Yes!” The room filled with the echoes of his cry.

“All right! Are you coming back next year better, badder, and stronger?”

“Yes!” Alff puffed up, barely suppressing the urge to bust up the tank. He always liked to smash when he got excited.

Bob gave him the thumbs up, pulled a radio out of his pocket, and spoke into it. “All right, boys. Time to release the Kraken!”

The great slab of metal that stood between the back of the tank and the exit screeched as it lumbered upward.

Alff waved and swam off.

The positive energy he’d brought out of the meeting lasted for leagues.

Once the excitement faded, Alff felt foolish, but the determination remained. He was going to be the best damn monster he could be.
He knew just where to start.

The latest trend in macho corporate teambuilding exercises involved replica Viking ships. The men would dress up, set sail, and indulge in a bit of staged raiding before being served a banquet at a mead hall.

It had been too long since Alff had a chance to crush a long-ship. Now there were whole fleets to menace.

Sometimes he loved his job.

And, really, he would be doing those guys a favor too. Any survivors would be bound together in ways no paintball adventure could ever replicate. It was a clear win-win scenario.

Being proactive felt good.

Alff flexed his tentacles in anticipation. He couldn’t wait to show them what synergy is all about.

Wendy Hammer teaches literature and composition at a community college. Her stories can be found in Plasma Frequency and Liquid Imagination. Others will appear in the forthcoming anthologies: Suspended in Dusk (Books of the Dead Press) and Gaia (Pantheon Magazine). Wendy lives in West Lafayette, Indiana with her husband.

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